For approximately the past 20 years, the majority population of the City of Compton, California has been Latino, yet no Latino has ever been elected to the Mayor’s office or the City Council.  Plaintiffs Felicitas González and Flora Ruiz hope their lawsuit challenging election practices in Compton will change that. They claim that the at-large method of elections violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 because the election system, in combination with racially polarized voting, has prevented Latino voters from being able to elect candidates of their choice in this city of 100,000. 

Plaintiffs are represented by Joaquin G. Avila, a nationally recognized expert on Latina/o voting rights, and RBG’s Gay Grunfeld, Blake Thompson, and Leslie Mehta.  Trial in the case will begin on February 7, 2012.  

In an important ruling on January 6, 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White found that plaintiffs’ expert analysis “is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of racially polarized elections for city council and mayor” in Compton and that “triable issues of material fact exist as to whether the at-large election has impaired the ability of Latinos to elect candidates of its choice or ability to influence the outcome of an election due to abridgement of their voting rights.”

A Los Angeles Times article on January 6, Lawsuit alleging Compton elections unfair to Latinos going to trial, quoted RBG’s Grunfeld: 

“No or almost no person who is not Latino in Compton has ever voted in all of these elections for a Latino candidate,” Gay Grunfeld, an attorney for plaintiffs Felicitas Gonzalez and Flora Ruiz, told the judge. “Therefore,” the attorney said, “Latinos are going to have to turn out at twice the rate of all the other voters to have  a candidate of their choice elected unless there’s a change in the system.”

Statistical analysis using well-established methods from federal voting rights law demonstrates that elections in Compton over the past decade have suffered from serious racial polarization, similar to that historically found in the Deep South.  That is, Latino candidates in Compton receive support from Latino voters, but African-American voters almost never vote for Latino candidates.  Because Latinos are a minority of registered voters, they are consistently thwarted by the African-American voting bloc in the city.   This has meant that Latinos have never had a voice in the government of Compton.  The plaintiffs are asking the court to find that Compton’s at-large method of elections unfairly prevents Latino citizens from electing  Latino candidates.  They want to establish other methods, such as district-based elections, that will lead to fairer representation in city government.

The case is González et al. v. City of Compton, Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC 450494.